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When I saw an article about a Lawrence, Kansas, man who was looking for information about his biological father, I was intrigued. We've all heard stories about children who, after they reach adulthood, reach out to look for a genetic parent if they were adopted. However, we don't hear many tales about kids who were conceived with donated sperm, and that's why this story piqued my interest.
Looking for a father, found a brother
David Brown was recently urged by his wife, Lauren, to see if he could track down his biological father via the internet. He hasn't found success quite yet, but he did turn up a surprise half-brother who was also seeking information on a sperm donor.
Together, they are trying to see if their joint effort can turn up a name, or at least some additional information. Brown says that not knowing anything about the man who provided half of his genetic material is unsettling and he feels like part of his life is missing. He cites medical information as a prime motivator, for both himself and his children.
They are not alone. I spoke with Jordon, who thought for 22 years that both of her parents contributed to her biological package. As it turns out, her parents used a sperm donor for her conception, and she has experienced similar questions as Brown and his brother. "My donor and parents selected an anonymous process which left me with nothing more than his ID number and a few vague details," she tells me.
Once the truth was known, she had to redefine her family dynamics, such as realizing that her brother wasn't a full-blood sibling, and the half-siblings she always thought she had on her father's side weren't blood relatives at all.
Sperm donors and privacy
How does sperm donation work, anyway? "It used to be that sperm donors were always anonymous," says Ingrid Rodi, M.D., Health Sciences Clinical Professor of OB-GYN, Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Many factors have contributed to changing that." She cites lessons that fertility medicine has learned from adoption, namely that often when children grow up, they like to know about who contributed to their genetic makeup.
There are several ways this has been approached, from sperm banks enabling sibling registries to allowing the donors a chance to be connected with their offspring when they come of age. There are even open donations where both parties are familiar with one another.
Since that was not always the case, today's adult children like Jordon are left in the dark. "I am very frustrated with the privacy restrictions that are keeping me from pertinent information as to what makes me who I am," she explains.
She has gone down several roads in her attempt to find out more about this genetic mystery, but it hasn't been easy or fruitful. "The attendant at the sperm bank basically laughed in my face and said that HIPAA will stand in the way if I want to try and find out more information. Since it’s anonymous, I cannot look up his medical history or contact information."
Moving away from anonymity
Modern sperm banks and fertility clinics have moved away from automatic anonymity. However, that doesn't help the now-grown children who don't know if they have half-siblings out there. What if Brown had fallen in love with a woman who turned out to be his half-sister? It's unlikely, but that's why sibling registries should be established at a bare minimum.
Anonymity is fine, but kids should have access to medical history. If you were conceived with the use of sperm donation, would you want to reach out to your genetic parent? And if your child was, what information would you like her to have access to?